Assuming a draft lottery won’t take effect until 2023, the Orioles will have the first pick in the 2022 draft. It will be the second time in the last four years the team has picked first. In the 2019 draft, they selected Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman.
In the 2020 draft, when they selected second, the Orioles picked University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who hasn’t played because of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart. With the fifth selection last season, their choice was Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser.
According to ESPN.com draft analyst Kiley McDaniel’s rankings, his top three are high school players: Georgia centerfielder Druw Jones, son of longtime Atlanta Braves outfielder Andruw Jones; Georgia second baseman Termarr Johnson; and Florida centerfielder Elijah Green.
Green, who attends IMG Academy in Bradenton, not far from Sarasota, is the son of onetime NFL tight end Eric Green, who played for the Ravens from 1996-1998.
McDaniel’s fourth- and fifth-ranked players are LSU third baseman Jacob Berry and Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee.
In first three drafts for Orioles general manager Mike Elias, he chose college position players; last year, each of the Orioles’ first eight picks were college players.
The two highest high school players chosen — Alabama shortstop Gunnar Henderson (second round, 2019) and third baseman Coby Mayo (fourth round, 2020) — are ranked 96th and 98th in McDaniel’s ranking of the top 100 prospects.
Elias has not drafted pitchers early. In 2020, when the Orioles had only six selections, they picked Iowa high school pitcher Carter Baumler, who didn’t pitch in 2021 after Tommy John surgery, in the fifth round. Last year, their fifth-round selection was University of Texas-Arlington right-hander Carlos Tavera.
McDaniel’s highest-ranked pitcher is Georgia high school right-hander Dylan Lesko, who, like Jones, has committed to Vanderbilt. His highest ranking for a college pitcher is East Carolina left-hander Carson Whisenhunt, ranked 21st.
McDaniel’s rankings have six Orioles in the top 100 (Rutschman (1st), Grayson Rodriguez (8th and the top-ranked pitcher), Cowser (74), left-hander DL Hall (94), Henderson (96) and Mayo (98).
He also rates the Orioles’ farm system as the best in baseball.
“The guys that are running things in Baltimore came from Houston, and Houston had a long track record of a number of things,” McDaniel said in a Zoom conference call.
“They were very good, sort of on the cutting edge of pitcher development, focused on analytics and pitch design and tweaking arm slot, leaning into a spin rate, adjust the tilt of a breaking ball.
“All those sort of very fine things that were hard to do, basically nobody was effective at doing it back then, and now most teams are reasonably good at it. Like they have some ability to do it. They’ve gotten really good at that and have been really good at that, and it’s not just one or two. It’s not just Mike Elias, it’s pitching coaches and all kinds of people from top to bottom, having a process, things like that.”
The Orioles’ farm system is ranked No. 1 by McDaniel and MLB Pipeline and fourth by Baseball America. The Athletic’s Keith Law ranks it 10th.
“They have less prospect capital from international scouting than any other organization in baseball,” Law said in a question and answer with The Athletic’s Orioles beat writer, Dan Connolly.
“For them to rank 10th with that drawback is remarkable! They should be thrilled. But between that and the system’s lack of clear starting pitching prospects, expecting a higher ranking isn’t reasonable.”
McDaniel sees it differently. “I really like what they’ve done in the draft,” he said. “Focusing on position players as opposed to pitching and taking shots on high school players later that they think they have more information on than other teams, whether than burning a pick and money on them, just burn the money and not so much the high pick.
“And then focusing on those things they’re really good at, which is optimizing pitchers and finding characteristics they can work with on position players. And then they’ve also done that a little bit better than the other teams that have also been in sort of asset collection mode because we’ve seen some of these rebuilds go much slower or not go quite as well, and they’ve executed at a high level.”
FanGraphs also released its top prospect list this week, and Rutschman, everyone’s top prospect, is first. Rodriguez is third, Hall (27), Cowser (40), Henderson (66) and Mayo (69) are the rest of the Orioles’ in their top 114.